Rise Against the Technocrats!
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The Snobbishness Levied at Techno and House D.J.s
A couple of articles have caught my eye…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
that has got me thinking deeply about Techno and House music right now. Both articles come from The Guardian; both look at female D.J.s and both, as you’d expect, have been met with a slew of user comments that cast aspersions on their (D.J.s’) worth and validity. I will talk about Nina Kraviz and Helena Hauff in a bit but, right now, a look at how Club music has changed. Articles are flying around concerning how the one-hundredth edition of the famous Now That’s What I Call Music! has hit us - and it is amazing to think a compilation series has lasted so long. I recall my exposure to the series back in the early-1990s and I have dipped in and out until now. My first memories of music go back to the Now series and the best chart artists of the time. I mention this – rather than going off on a tangent! – because the sort of music that stood out on those compilations was not Pop and Rock: House and Techno were the sounds that struck my infantile ear. The sound and flavour of the scene have changed since the 1990s, for sure, but there is still a snobbishness and elitism when it comes to the genres. Maybe 2 Unlimited and Snap! – European Dance/Techno acts that seemed to be everywhere at one point – are not the best examples of the best of the older breed but their music was defined by brightness, energy and, a lot of the time, female-led vocals.
Dance came more to the British fore in the late-1990s when Basement Jaxx emerged: before then; The Prodigy brought darkness, menace and ecstasy to Dance and Trance. We can look back at the development and changes in House and Techno (and Dance) from the late-1980s to the current time. I remember growing up around the likes of The Prodigy, Frankie Knuckles and Larry Heard and realise there have been definite shifts and evolutions. If you label; the music ‘Dance’, ‘House’ or ‘Techno’; there is less of a commercial element to the music – D.J.s and composers have their faithful following but are more underground and less exposed than they should be.
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One can argue the quality of modern Techno and Dance is pretty so-so – House music has lost its glory and not as influential as it was when I was younger. Maybe this is gender-based but I feel there is too much snooty and aggressive behaviour levied against female D.J.s. I will bring in a couple of features soon but I hear so many of those ‘outside’ of the Techno and Dance scene who are unaware of the skill and talent needed to provide an epic and crowd-uniting set. Carly Wilford, a D.J. and SISTER Collective lead, has deejayed and performed all around the world. She seeks out new talent and has brought heavy bass, after-hours sweat and thrills to crowds in many corners of the globe.
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Wilford, when speaking with Huck back in May, talked about her path into the world of the D.J. and being inspired by trailblazers like Annie Nightingale and Mary Anne Hobbs (a heroine of mine, too). She strives to close the gender gap – there is a fifty-fifty between men and women in terms of population as she points out – and end sexual harassment:
“I believe that we’re living through one of the most pivotal times in our generation’s history,” she says. “It just makes you feel that you haven’t been losing your mind. These things are really happening, and it isn’t okay. Now boundaries are being reasserted.
“I’ve had things happen to me personally that I kept quiet about, that I was probably quite embarrassed about, and that held me back,” she adds. “What’s been incredible over the past few months is that there’s been a real solidarity, with women – and guys – people speaking up and holding each other’s hands”.
Wilford, like her peers, has faced challenges and prejudice – she has a community and following that vibes to her sounds and loves what she puts out. Maybe I am getting a bit off-track but I can imagine she has experienced people doubting her talent and how ‘hard’ it is to do what she does. The criticism and snobbishness are levied against men too but one of the things that annoy me is how people assume being a D.J. of Techno and House (or Dance) is a bit of simple knob-twiddling and putting some faders up/down. A lot of the most innovative and progressive music of all-time has mixed in samples and collided musical worlds to create something mesmeric and divine!
IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Jamieson for Huck
I have watched videos of Wilford and others perform their sets and it is an endless case of keeping control of the mixing board and making sure the energy is kept up. It is about mood and mixing sounds together that do not go in too hard or play it coy. It is about standing out and creating something unique. I read comments from people that fall into two camps. There are those who have a sexist attitude and concentrate on a woman’s look – I will bring in the Nina Kraviz article in a bit. Another piece, written last year, looked at the way we have a divide and there is a rather vicious attitude from some:
“Plenty of us (including myself) have stuck the knife in a bit too deep, pointing out people’s ‘obvious’ faults from our educated perspective. Correcting someone on the shortcomings of their perceived music intelligence is in itself as wrong as whoever was spewing about Drumcode being the best Techno out there. The blame is equal on both sides and the solution equally so. If we were all a bit more accepting of people who are admittedly new and fresh on the scene, then the underlying hostility would cease to exist. A simple push in the right direction, away from the stereotypical entry-level tracks and artists, into more niche or hard to find artists that people may prefer is so much more beneficial than saying they don’t know what they’re on about.
"Dance music constantly fights against misunderstanding from the uneducated outside world, so why can’t it combat similar miscommunication within its own circles. If the scene is as all-encompassing as it tries to lead people to believe then why doesn’t it have a more open armed policy to the naïve new listener?”
Maybe there is that stuffy and unmoved older generation who remembers the days when Pete Tong was popular and Dance/Techno was a much more varied and widespread affair. There is a naivety that suggests that, while we do not see Dance and House high up the charts all the time and on the radio constantly; the genres have grown hugely and we have stations dedicated to the music. I have mentioned Carly Wilford and how she looks for like-minded talent; EFFI is another incredible D.J. who has played big festivals, student nights and great events. It is great to see boutique festivals, clubs and events open up opportunities for D.J.s – something we did not have years ago. I still feel a split between the newcomers to the new breed who feel they (D.J.s) are not doing much and relying too heavily on technology and older sounds. House and Techno relied on huge innovations and movements back in the day: so many assume we are in an uninspired time where Pop and Rock take bigger prominence in the popular music world.
Back to the Wilford interview - and some cuttings show Dance and Techno has not had the same breakthrough as other genres and movements:
“Dance music hasn’t quite had its ground-shaking Time’s Up moment yet, Wilford says. The Forbes list of the world’s 10 highest paid DJs featured no women yet again last year; there was only one woman for every four male DJs on the worldwide festival circuit in mid-2017, according to a study by the group female:pressure…
“Know that however lonely you feel, you’re never alone,” she says. “Even if the people around you don’t understand you, your tribe is out there”.
You can do the research regarding the best male D.J.s and Techno devotees of the day but a lot of the most engaging and compelling D.J.s right now are women. Helena Hauff spoke with Joe Muggs of The Guardian and talked about her career and new music. Muggs’ assessment of her music shows the complexities and variations present in the clubs right now:
“In the five years since she started releasing tracks, she has become a figurehead for a noisy, neo-gothic imperative in techno, delivering live and DJ sets of sometimes terrifying strobe-lit intensity that triangulate perfectly between acid house energy and industrial harshness. The almost entirely live jams of her new album, Qualm, are the best attempt yet to bottle that lightning; they are likely to push her into clubland’s big league”.
Hauff talked about breaking through at a time when being a D.J. was a rarity for a woman. Underground Techno has always had sexism and limitations: right now, there are some breakthroughs and experimental geniuses (women) who are shaking that up:
“Her success has come alongside several other women breaking through in the former boys’ club of underground techno: she cites Cologne’s Lena Willikens and Siberian superstar Nina Kraviz among her favourite acts. As with most things, her approach to the topic is pragmatic. “It’s important we talk about this, but I’m not on social media, I’m not like [disco/house DJ] the Black Madonna, for example, who’s very active on Twitter and determined to get her message out there,” Hauff says. “But I know other girls say they started DJing after they saw me and that’s really, really cool. Every woman who goes out and does whatever she wants to do, and makes music and DJs and is visible, helps to make a change and make a difference”.
Kate Hutchinson of The Guardian spoke with Nina Kraviz – one of the most popular young D.J.s working in the business right now. Kraviz talked about the energy she projects and how detailed and nuanced her work is:
“When I DJ, I’m fucking alive,” she says. “All my channels are open. People think I’m on drugs, but I’m not – I’m just really experiencing it.” She calls her approach “raw”, but she dislikes how that has become a byword for anyone who plays vintage-sounding house music through software: “Fuck you, man, [your show is] pre-cooked, taken out of the fridge and then burned in the fucking microwave.” By contrast, she never pre-plans her sets, let alone stands still while playing. “I’m putting my physical presence into it. And it’s different from one show to another because I’m a different person every day. I’m the kind of person that goes from highest point to the fucking lowest point in a second”.
A lot of the comments under the article praised Kraviz and paid testimony to her abilities and durability. There were many – I have not named those who made them – who show a typical ignorance and sexism...
“Listening to her and other techno DJ artists made me realize
A) how great musicians and composers Bay City Rollers were;
B) I'm hearing the soundtrack of Huxley's Brave New World;
C) there must be certain pleasures in being a zombie”.
"She still has to deal with sexist comments about her mixing skills…"
“Eugh spare us. What is sexist about this? Plenty of DJs get grief because they're mixing skills are shite, and it's not because they have a vagina. Shite mixing is shite mixing. It's kind of a DJ's job”.
“The fact that she doesn't tell you her real age, just highlights the fact she's got a huge ego and all that prancing and pouting she does behind stage is infact just her absolutely in love with herself”.
“She used to be good until she started all the pouting and flicking her hair behind the decks”.
Although these are comments from readers of The Guardian – either very middle-class or used to a different sound of Techno - this is the sort of attitude and stupidity aimed at D.J.s like Nina Kraviz. The common link between all the male leaders; female pioneers like Kraviz, Wilford and Hauff is their free spirit, lack of conformist attitude and, quite frankly, not giving a sh*t about negativity and those who do not like them! The Kraviz 'argument' looked at sexism and how changes have started to creep in:
“…But sexism was a problem. Back in the mid-00s, the male-dominated dance music scene struggled to get its head around a woman who knew what to do with electronic hardware. In 2012, she released her self-titled debut album, a collection of simmering 808 love songs and gauzy techno-pop. While “some people loved it”, says Kraviz, “people were suspicious of a pretty woman making music on her own, with a vision. They couldn’t handle me. It was like: ‘It cannot be true that you can have lipstick on and make music’”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Nina Kraviz/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press Association
Other big figures in Techno/EDM and Dance include the late, great Aviici. He relied on big and bombastic sounds that often paired with Pop music and artists – designed to get people happy and involved. An article, following his death, looked at the sort of snobbishness he had to endure:
“There is a particular snobbishness towards Avicii’s brand of big, unabashed EDM that relates to the notion that music of value cannot be computer-generated or enormously popular, but the same distaste is generally not applied to Daft Punk, for example, or Taylor Swift. His is the kind of music that is readily dismissed as something you “press a button on a laptop” to make. (Would that such a button existed!)
These songs were never meant to be heard by an individual, through tinny earbuds, in the daytime
Even now, when the divide between high and low culture is being smoothed out and there is said to be no such thing as a guilty pleasure, you may be more likely to “own up” to liking Levels than to declare it proudly (you might just sequester it on your gym playlist). But Avicii’s music was that rare thing in a world where culture has atomised: the soundtrack to moments of pure, collective euphoria”.
The cynicism and upturned noses are not only directed at women: other are hostile towards those who want to add new genres into Electronic music and take it in new directions. The reasons Techno and House got to where it was is down to the very best taking risks and pushing it forward.
The Streets (Mike Skinner) urged, on Original Pirate Material, for us to “push things forward” and stop buying and listening to the same old crap! There are some who do not understand Techno and how it has mutated – this does not invalidate the music and we should hold our tongues when it comes to criticism. I would like to see people get out of the mindset (that) EDM/Techno and House is all about leaning on classic sounds or standing there dumbly and letting technology do all of the talking. Maybe the overall sound and influence of the scene have changed but that does not mean there is an irrelevance and lacking quality. Instead, more clubs and festivals have sprung up; women are fighting against the gender divide and the faithful are promoting the best D.J.s out there. Many live in the past and expect Techno and the like to retain its skin and components. I wonder whether ignorance and arrogance overtake and shouts over all the talent out there. I urge people to research and look at all the fantastic Techno/Dance D.J.s who are lighting up clubs and releasing stunning mixes/tracks. For those who feel being a D.J. is nothing more than shifting a few knobs and looking pretty; they really need to spend some time…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
IN their world!